By Shelby Hobbs, Special to Step Up For Students
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s insurance industry has stepped up to support the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program at a record level, committing $61.2 million this year to fund scholarships for more than 9,380 students. Leading the pack is UnitedHealthcare, which has contributed more than $83 million to Step Up For Students over the past decade.
UnitedHealthcare CEO Greg Reidy on Oct. 4 visited Arlington Community Academy in Jacksonville, where students are among the beneficiaries of the scholarships, to promote the program’s impact and encourage other insurance companies to participate.
“By helping struggling students get into an educational environment where they can succeed, we know we are helping to make our state stronger,” said Reidy. “It’s gratifying to meet the students who are benefiting from these scholarships and see them on a track to reach their full potential.”
Step Up For Students, the nonprofit organization that helps administer the needs-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, praised the insurance company’s historic support for the program. Step Up provides scholarships for lower-income students to attend the schools that best meet their individual needs. A recent study found that students who receive these scholarships for at least four years are 40 percent more likely to attend college than their public school counterparts, and 29 percent more likely to earn an associate degree.
Since 2009, UnitedHealthcare’s contributions have enabled more than 18,000 Florida students to attend schools that offer them a chance at a brighter future. The company’s recent contribution will help serve the 7,483 students who receive the scholarships in Duval County alone.
“Support from Florida’s insurance industry is critical for the work our team does to support children across the state,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “This contribution is an investment in students, and it enables the positive impacts of this program to continue and expand to change more lives for the better.”
Families and students who have benefited from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program added their voices in support of the insurance industry’s efforts, urging other companies to consider participation.
“This program directly helps children in our local area, and I am grateful that my own children can now attend the school that’s right for them,” said Tamara Herring, whose daughter Tori is a second-grader are Arlington Community Academy. “I am so grateful for the many donors who support this program, individuals and companies that are helping children like mine have a better future. Every child deserves that chance.”
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on the redefinED blog on Sept. 27, 2017. The blog is hosted by Step Up For Students and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education.
Meanwhile, scholarship students are 8 percent more likely to obtain associate degrees. That number rises to 29 percent for those who secured scholarships in earlier grades and used them at least four years.
Annual evaluations of standardized test results in the scholarship program have consistently found the average student who uses the program to attend a private school makes roughly one year’s academic progress in one year’s time.
They’ve also found students who use the scholarships tend to be more disadvantaged than other lower-income students who don’t use them.
Urban Institute authors Matthew M. Chingos and Daniel Kuehn describe scholarship students this way: “They have low family incomes, they are enrolled at low-performing public schools (as measured by test scores), and they have poorer initial test performance compared with their peers.”
Studies have looked at long-term outcomes for other programs that help disadvantaged students pay private school tuition.
But researchers haven’t looked as much at college enrollment among students who received scholarships from big, statewide programs. The Urban Institute report is unprecedented in its scale. It looks at more than 10,000 students across the nation’s third-largest state. It uses data from the Florida Department of Education, as well as Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the scholarships.
Unpacking the findings
The study finds students who use tax credit scholarships are significantly more likely than peers with similar disadvantages to enroll in college within two years of finishing high school.
Students who continued using a scholarship for four years or more saw, by far, the largest college-enrollment boost. Those who only used a scholarship for one year saw essentially no benefit.
The researchers note one potential factor. Students who leave the scholarship program after a short time tend to struggle more academically. Those who remain on scholarships for several years tend to perform better, perhaps because they’ve found schools that work for them.
Most of the enrollment boost for scholarship alumni happened at Florida’s community colleges. The state’s 28 community colleges are intended to be accessible and affordable. Tuition and fees for full-time Florida College System students working toward associate degrees cost roughly half what students pay at the state’s four-year public universities. The researchers noted the two-year schools are “more financially accessible to the low-income students participating in FTC.”
The researchers didn’t look at private or out-of-state institutions, where data wasn’t as readily available. As a result, they cautioned that: “National data indicate that low-income students from private high schools are more likely to enroll in private and out-of-state colleges than low-income students from public high schools. Because of this, our results may understate the true impact of FTC participation on college enrollment and degree attainment.”
The enrollment boost was larger for a few notable groups. Scholarships students born outside the U.S. and those who spoke a language other than English at home saw some of the largest jumps in college enrollment.
Scholarship students weren’t just more likely to attend two-year colleges. They were also 8 percent more likely to earn associate degrees. But the researchers note there was some drop-off between the jump in college attendance and the jump in completion.
Also, scholarship students were not significantly more likely to earn four-year degrees. The researchers note their sample sizes were small for this group, so it was hard to make statistical comparisons. They also noted that only 4 percent of the disadvantaged public-school students they compared to scholarship recipients earn bachelor’s degrees.
What the findings mean
Low-income students from high-poverty schools face greater barriers getting to college than their middle-income peers. To earn a four-year degree, the barriers are larger still. They’re more likely to struggle with tuition payments, student loans and jobs that take time away from their studies.
These barriers deserve a closer look, the Urban Institute researchers write.
This study finds that the nation’s largest private school choice program helps students into college, but too many still fail to earn degrees. A fuller understanding of what this means for these students will require continuing to track their outcomes, including bachelor’s degree attainment rates and incomes. But this study shows that policymakers considering the design, expansion, or reform of private school choice programs should carefully consider not just their likely impact on short-term metrics such as test scores, but also how they might shape long-term outcomes, including college enrollment and graduation.
Other programs dedicated to expanding educational opportunity for lower-income students have seen similar results. In 2011, the Knowledge Is Power Program learned roughly 33 percent of students who completed middle school with the nation’s largest charter school network managed to graduate college.
Those results didn’t satisfy KIPP. So the charter organization created a new program to help its alumni not only reach college, but finish it.
Still, for school choice programs facing a flurry of headlines, the Urban Institute report suggests the anecdotes about school choice scholarship recipients awakening to the possibility of college aren’t mere anomalies.
Travis Pillow can be reached at Tpillow@sufs.org.
By PAUL SOOST
CLEARWATER, Fla. – SKECHERS USA, Inc., a global leader in the performance and lifestyle footwear industry, today announced a $210,000 contribution to the Step Up For Students scholarship program.
This is the second year that SKECHERS, headquartered in Manhatten Beach, California, has supported the program and their contribution will fund scholarships for 32 Florida students in the 2017-18 school year.
“SKECHERS is proud to participate in Florida’s Step Up For Students program for the second consecutive year,” said Michael Greenberg, president of SKECHERS. “This essential state program complements ongoing efforts at SKECHERS to help kids around the globe, including our charitable BOBS footwear collection and the annual SKECHERS Pier-to-Pier Friendship Walk in Manhattan Beach, CA that supports kids with special needs, and education.”
Through the BOBS from Skechers program, SKECHERS has donated new shoes to more than 14 million kids affected by poverty, homelessness and disasters in the United States and more than 30 countries worldwide.
Step Up For Students helps manage the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides K-12 grade scholarships to qualified lower-income families throughout Florida. The tax credit program was created by the Florida Legislature in 2001 and is funded by corporations that receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their contributions. The program allows recipients to choose between a scholarship to help with private school tuition and fees, or a transportation scholarship to assist with transportation costs to an out-of-district public school.
“We are grateful to SKECHERS for its support of our mission to ensure Florida students have access to learning environments that suit their individual needs through educational choice,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “On behalf of Step Up and the tens of thousands of families we serve, we thank SKECHERS for their commitment to our Florida communities.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,343 per student for grades K-5, $6,631 for six to eight and $6,920 for grades nine to 12. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
Paul Soost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By GEOFF FOX
Eduardo Rivero was a sixth-grader reading at a fourth-grade level when school started last year. He was also behind in math and had trouble concentrating.
As he begins seventh grade at Kingdom Academy, a pre-K through 8 private school in Miami, the 12-year-old is reading at an eighth-grade level and thriving in math.
The amazing turnaround has left his mother, Jovanna Rivero, pleasantly surprised.
“I sat down with his teacher at the end of the year, and they showed me the (reading) score and, oh, my God, I was so emotional and happy,” Jovanna Rivero said. “It was like opening up a box with a surprise in it. I didn’t think it would be so good. Even the teachers and staff thought it was amazing by how much progress he made in that time.”
Besides Eduardo’s hard work, she said teacher Xiomara Carrera was instrumental in his success.
“She saw that he was falling behind in his studies and understood that he was missing the previous year’s foundational understanding of math and English,” Rivero said. “Not addressing it would cause him to spiral into a failing year. The pressure of not understanding each day’s advancing subject matter was hurting him not only academically, but socially as well.
“When I approached the school about this, they offered to add him in Mrs. Carrera’s after-school tutoring program. Unfortunately, by the second quarter of the school year the program was already full. Mrs. Carrera took the initiative to open her schedule and some personal time to work with Eduardo. It makes me so happy to see that teachers like Mrs. Carrera are willing to work with parents and truly care for our children’s success.”
Eduardo recently entered his third year at Kingdom Academy. His mother said he previously attended a local elementary school, but while he made mostly A’s and B’s, he was not happy there.
Jovanna Rivero learned of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program through a friend whose child went to Kingdom Academy. A single mother of two who works as a medical assistant, she applied for the program for lower-income families through Step Up For Students and Eduardo was accepted.
While many students in the program realize academic improvements after receiving a scholarship, Eduardo was different.
“During his fifth-grade year, we noticed an odd behavior when it came to focusing on a task,” Rivero said. “Through counseling it was determined he had a mild learning disability. He was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.”
She doubts Eduardo would have gotten as much individualized attention at their neighborhood school. Her younger son Julian is now doing well as a first-grader at Kingdom Academy; he is also on the scholarship program through Step Up.
When he isn’t astounding his family and teachers with academic progress, Eduardo enjoys computer coding, video games, Minecraft and art.
“So far, I want to be animator,” he said.
“He draws characters from his imagination,” his mother said. “Whatever goes into his brain, he draws.”
She said Eduardo’s confidence has soared since his remarkable academic turnaround.
“We’re very grateful to everyone at Step Up and Kingdom Academy,” she said.
Geoff Fox can be reached at gfox@StepUpForStudents.org.
By GEOFF FOX
A three-classroom school tucked inside a church in south St. Petersburg, Florida, is proving that a learning institution doesn’t need a sprawling campus to become a beacon for families seeking educational options.
Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental Academy was founded in 2011 by Pastor Robert Ward of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
That first year, there were only three sixth-grade students and one teacher, but it has grown steadily. It now serves sixth- through eighth-graders, and the staff has grown to three full-time teachers, three teacher’s assistants and Principal Shannon Dolly.
Because of our supporters, those students now have hope for a brighter future.
Dolly attributed Mt. Moriah’s growth to word-of-mouth testimonials among parents in the area.
“We also put up a sign out front a couple of years ago,” she said. “That alone has helped us a lot.”
Most students are from the south St. Petersburg area, although some travel from nearby Largo and Pinellas Park.
Dolly is happy that enrollment is increasing and ecstatic with how well her students are performing.
During the 2016-17 school year, the school opted into Step Up’s Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) assessment. With multiple tests a year, MAP® provides teachers with almost immediate results, allowing them to adjust their instruction to the needs of each student.
Dolly said the program has worked well and that reading scores at Mt.Moriah have significantly increased. Mt. Moriah graduates either attend a public school or transfer to a private high school.
Without our supporters, crucial innovations like MAP would not be possible.
“I work diligently with the eighth-grade parents to get their kids in the right school,” Dolly said. “We make sure they’re on a rigorous academic program. They don’t know it, but they work a grade ahead. When they go to high school, they already have an Algebra 1 or Spanish 1 credit, as long as they pass it here.”
Students like Tahjai Lassiter, 14, have thrived at Mt. Moriah. A student on the tax-credit scholarship program, Tahjai graduated from the school in June as its valedictorian with a 3.8 grade-point average. In 2017-18, she plans to attend Gibbs High School, a local public school, where she will be enrolled in the Beta program.
The Beta program blends business and technological skills into students’ academic courses. The program includes a “real world simulated business class where students use their critical thinking skills and hands-on curriculum to operate a business within the school,” according to the school’s website.
The program should offer plenty of challenges, but they are ones Tahjai has been well-prepared for at Mt. Moriah. In fact, the program should be an especially good fit for her.
“I want to own a couple of businesses locally,” she said of her future aspirations.
Zhariah Stephens, 12, a rising eighth-grader, said she is also happy at Mt. Moriah. She is also a tax-credit scholar and previously attended a private elementary school.
Although she said science is her favorite subject, “because it’s easier,” Zharia aspires to someday become an attorney.
“Sometimes I like to argue,” she said.
Dolly nodded in agreement, saying, “She’s a great debater.”
Zhariah added that television shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” have helped stoke her passion for issues pertaining to crime and punishment.
Asked what she liked most about Mt. Moriah, Zhariah didn’t hesitate to mention the staff.
“Because they love me,” she said with a grin.
Without our supporters, Zhariah might have been lost in a sea of other students.
By PAUL SOOST
ST. PETERSBURG – Wright Flood, the largest provider of federal flood insurance policies in the U.S., recently announced its largest contribution to date to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program. Wright Flood’s $1 million contribution will provide 164 scholarships to financially disadvantaged Florida schoolchildren.
The contribution was announced during the Step Up For Students Rising Stars Awards celebration in Pinellas County. The event, hosted at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, recognized Step Up scholars, parents and teachers for their exceptional work during the 2016-17 school year. Students were able to thank Wright Flood executives and other donors attending the event. In 2016, the corporate community contributed a total $559 million for these scholarships, helping lower-income students throughout Florida realize their dreams of attending a private school that fits their educational needs.
Wright Flood has partnered with Step Up For Students since 2008, contributing $2,850,000, which has provided a total of 516 scholarships. Step Up is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. The program is funded by corporations through dollar-for-dollar tax credited donations.
“Wright Flood is proud to donate annually to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program and is impressed with the success of the students who participate,” said Patty Templeton-Jones, president of Wright Flood. “As a St. Petersburg company, we are so glad to see students in our home state benefit.”
During the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students is serving nearly 98,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,886 per student. About 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide. Scholars may also choose a $500 scholarship to offset the cost of transportation to an out-of-district public school.
“We are always grateful to longtime corporate partners like Wright Flood who recognize the value of educational choice and who support our mission to ensure that all Florida students have access to learning environments that suit their individual needs,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “We are grateful for Wright Flood’s continued support and for their commitment to the communities they serve.”
By PAUL SOOST|
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – Synchrony Financial, a premier consumer financial services company with an 80-year heritage, has announced a $1 million donation to Step Up For Students to provide scholarships for financially disadvantaged children in Orlando.
The donation marks the first time that Synchrony Financial has partnered with Step Up For Students. Synchrony Financial’s contribution will fund about 165 K-12 scholarships for financially disadvantaged Florida children so they may attend a private K-12 school, or an out-of-district public school. The scholarships provide an opportunity for recipients to find a school that fits their individual needs and lead them toward a more prosperous future
“We’re pleased that this donation will provide children with a real opportunity for educational success. Synchrony Financial is committed to addressing the needs of today’s working families, which includes providing enriching and safe places for kids to be while their parents are working,” said Margaret Keane, Synchrony Financial president and CEO. “Educational opportunities are crucial to opening doors to hope for a better future. Working with Step Up For Students is a true embodiment of our purpose statement to improve the success of every business we serve and the quality of each life we touch.”
Step Up For Students helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to qualified lower-income K-12 schoolchildren throughout Florida. The program allows recipients to choose between a scholarship to help with private school tuition and fees, or a transportation scholarship to attend an out-of-district public school.
“We are truly grateful to have Synchrony Financial as a partner in our mission to ensure that lower-income children have choices in their education,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up president. “With their help, we are providing access to Florida’s children to an educational environment that best fits their learning need, and will also positively affect our communities in the future.”
During the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students expects to serve more than 91,000 students throughout Florida, with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,886 per student. More than 1,600 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
Synchrony Financial has had a presence in the Orlando area since 1983, and recently increased its commitment to central Florida this summer with the opening of a second site.
The original location in Longwood is primarily a customer support site. The second location, in Altamonte Springs, will provide customer service and collections support across all of Synchrony Financial’s business platforms. The 102,000 square-foot space features training and conference rooms with advanced technologies including telepresence capabilities, an on-site dining venue and employee fitness center.
Synchrony Financial employees in the Orlando area have provided nearly 300 volunteer hours so far in 2016 with a number of local nonprofit agencies.
About Synchrony Financial
Synchrony Financial (NYSE: SYF) is one of the nation’s premier consumer financial services companies. Its roots in consumer finance trace back to 1932, and today the company is the largest provider of private label credit cards in the United States based on purchase volume and receivables*. Synchrony Financial provides a range of credit products through programs we have established with a diverse group of national and regional retailers, local merchants, manufacturers, buying groups, industry associations and healthcare service providers to help generate growth for our partners and offer financial flexibility to our customers. Through its partners’ more than 350,000 locations across the United States and Canada, and its websites and mobile applications, the company offers its customers a variety of credit products to finance the purchase of goods and services. Synchrony Financial offers private label and co-branded Dual Card™ credit cards, promotional financing and installment lending, loyalty programs and FDIC-insured savings products through Synchrony Bank. More information can be found at www.synchronyfinancial.com, facebook.com/SynchronyFinancial, www.linkedin.com/company/synchrony-financial and twitter.com/SYFNews.
*Source: The Nilson Report (May 2016, Issue # 1087) – based on 2015 data.